I want to pick up on some thoughts from a sentence that I heard this morning. The sentence is: "I am less interested in placing blame than I am in learning what went wrong so we can fix these problems"* (please see the disclaimer below)
This is a worthwhile sentiment which can also be a tricky one and those who read this blog-post today will likely recognize the very "tricky" context in which it was said. The most obvious objection to this sentiment is does this mean it's perfectly OK to be sloppy, incompetent or uninterested in doing a good job? If you are not pulled up for being sloppy, incompetent or uninterested, how will you learn to do better next time? And what about those individuals who may end up unintentionally victimized by your incompetence? Don't they deserve the satisfaction of seeing you punished?
I acknowledge these objections. I acknowledge the fact that sometimes individuals have responsibilities that, for whatever reason, they are uninterested in fulfilling and which they deliberately shirk. I acknowledge that there should be consequences for irresponsibility and that people who are deliberately and willfully irresponsible should not be constantly let off the hook.
But the thing is that things do go wrong in life. There are many times when failures are systemic and the failure is not really a matter of an individual being uninterested or incompetent. Sometimes there can be systemic failure even with everyone doing their job correctly. And yet we still love to try to single out an individual on whom to place the blame, whether or not they could reasonably be said to have caused the problem or even had the power to stop it.
We are often more interested in finding a scapegoat to punish than we are in learning from our mistakes and fixing the system. I think I might go out on a limb and suggest that more often than not, we are satisfied when we have found someone to punish and we don't even bother trying to learn anything from our mistakes. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense if we put the majority of our efforts into learning from our mistakes?
I've just started a new job and there is a lot of detail involved in the training. Yesterday, a co-worker worked with me for a few hours and she caught many of the mistakes I made. And this is how I really learned: I made a mistake, she caught the mistake, asked me what was wrong, I removed the mistaken item and placed it in the correct place and moved on. I learned from this because *I* physically corrected my own mistakes. I learned from this much more than I would have learned by watching my co-worker do the job.
I think that there is theology here too. Christianity tells us that God is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness. God is like my co-worker: catching our mistakes, asking us what we did wrong, asking us to correct our own mistakes and then helping us to learn from our mistakes so we can move on into a new future. God is not like many of us; God is not just waiting to blame and punish us with no care or thought about whether or not we have learned anything.
I want to live in a world where I can learn from my mistakes. What about you?
* Disclaimer: I am not trying to comment specifically on today's news item about the failure to catch "the Christmas bomber". I am also not trying to signal blanket or uncritical approval for everything President Obama said, says or will say. I am not interested in a partisan conversation here; I'm interested in the idea and the attitude behind this statement.